Chapter 50

               Swimming on board was out of the picture, Will quickly learned. While he had the stamina and arm strength for it, the moment someone spotted his wet clothes after climbing onto the riverboat it was a short trip to being thrown off. He tried lying his way past the hurdle, saying he’d fallen over, but the staff began demanding to see identification, tickets, and other proof that he lacked. This scenario was set so that the boat was meant to be secretive and secure, which meant bullshitting his way past the guards while wearing a dripping suit was above Will’s level of fast-talking, even as he tried to find key-phrases that would trigger the security AI letting him pass.

                After some trial and error, Will eventually found a docked boat that he was able to hotwire without being noticed. Arriving at the floating casino, he was quickly shut down by the staff, as they refused to let him leave his boat abandoned in the water. Which, he had to admit, did seem like a basic safety issue that he’d overlooked.

                In a move born more of desperation than planning, Will checked the pockets of his suit and discovered he had been given a tablet computer roughly the size of a phone, and a wallet nearly swollen with Euros. Feeling a touch miffed that Professor Pendleton hadn’t mentioned the scenario came with starting inventory, Will re-assessed his strategy. He walked over to a small café that advertised free wi-fi, paid too much for a cup of coffee he couldn’t taste, and sat down with the tablet.

                When Professor Pendleton told Will they still had their powers in the scenario, Will hadn’t thought much of it. To him, his ability had always only been functional in terms of preparation. Building things well in advance, laying traps long before the battle started. But, having hit endless dead-ends on other avenues, it seemed worthwhile to try and take an approach more tailored to his abilities. And that started with research.

                He’d been braced for hours of setting up programs to try and crack into the necessary systems, but to Will’s surprise there was no need. Almost everything he wanted was right there, instantly accessible. It took a moment for him to understand why, and when it hit him he felt utterly ridiculous for forgetting such an important detail. In this make-believe situation, he wasn’t Will Murray, Lander student. He was a Hero, and that meant he had access and support to get his jobs done.

                Twenty minutes of speedy work, made easier by the fact that his tablet was above top of the line, in fact it felt like tech he would have designed, and Will exited the café with something like a plan rooted in his head.

                Finding someone willing to take him over to the casino was no issue, now that he was flush with cash, and this time no one made a fuss about an abandoned vehicle as the driver headed back to the docks. Will was immediately approached by two men he knew to be security, as they’d thrown him overboard on many of his previous attempts. They asked for his name and invitation, which was met with a lie and a truth. Will honestly admitted he didn’t have one, though the name he used wasn’t his own. It belonged to a smuggler that worked routes between America and Europe who was currently at large. He wasn’t particularly notorious, Will had needed to dig deep in the systems to find him, so low was the man’s priority. In fact, that was what made him appealing. The smuggler stayed so off the radar, there weren’t even pictures of him. Yet he was the sort of fellow who was bound to work off of reputation, one that might just earn the benefit of the doubt when walking into illegal establishments. Doctoring up the digital identification has been the hardest part of the job, and there was still a chance they wouldn’t bite, but it wasn’t like smugglers went out of their way to advertise who they were. And it was just a name. More than one person had the same name, if push came to shove.

                After a quick deliberation, and a call over their radios to an unseen entity, the guards parted, allowing Will access to the casino boat’s main floor. There were still dozens of hurdles left to clear before the task was done, but Will was finally on board. He was making progress.

*             *             *

                “Not bad, I thought he’d get dunked a few more times before making it inside.” Professor Pendleton was bent over the screen, watching Will’s avatar stroll past the roulette wheel. He glanced at the clock and let out a slight wheeze of disappointment. “Looks like we’ll have to pull him out soon, class is almost over and you’ve all got lesser sessions to attend. Before you go, however, let’s make this a learning opportunity for everyone. Tell me how you think you’d have gotten on the boat. Then, before we meet again, come down and try it. We can all talk next time about whether your idea worked or not, and how you changed things in the face of failure.”

                “Do we start with the same stuff as Will?” Britney asked.

                “You’d both be given dresses as fancy as his suit, although you can change that in the settings if needed,” Professor Pendleton said. “And you’d get the cash, too. The tablet was just for him, though. In contrast, you’ll have access to your powers within the system via digital tools, so that advantage more than evens out.”

                Alice and Britney were both silent as they watched Will’s character on screen navigate the casino. They’d witnessed all of his failures, as well as his small triumph, so they knew much of what would and wouldn’t work.

                “I think my first move would be to buy a wetsuit and a water-proof bag,” Britney said. “Life isn’t James Bond, so my clothes wouldn’t stay dry under just the suit. But if I sealed the dress off in a quality waterproof bag, went invisible, and swum over, I think I could slip into a bathroom and change with minimal risk of being caught. Once I’m in the casino, I think it would be smooth sailing. The guards are looking for people slipping onto the boat, the scrutiny on the floor seems highly diminished in comparison.”

                “You’d need something to cover your face, too,” Alice suggested. “All the women inside are wearing make-up, you’d stand out if yours was smeared.”

                “I imagine I’d have to hit a few dive shops. But in a town on the water, I feel like there would be a good chance of me being able to get the supplies.”

                “You’ll have the chance to test it before next class.” Professor Pendleton reached over to the keyboard and hit a few buttons, causing a small timer to appear on the screen. He leaned into the microphone and said “Will, sorry but time is almost up. I’m shutting you down so you can all make next class. Just sit tight as it powers down or the switch can be disorienting.” That done, he turned to Alice. “And how would you get on board? Flying?”

                “Since I don’t have Britney’s power on top of my own, I think that might be a touch conspicuous,” Alice replied. “But I’m also better at fast-talking than Will. Plus, I imagine there’s a very different attitude toward a fully-decked out lady trying to enter their club versus a random guy in a suit. I think I’ll buy a ride like he did and try to charm my way past, or see if any other late-comers are making their own trek to the boat and ask if they’d like company.”

                “Can’t say either way if that one will work, it depends on how well you can execute,” Professor Pendleton told her. “I do want you both to take note of how Will handled his failures, though. He tried new strategies, and when they didn’t work, he changed his approach. That is the right way to use this sort of tool, learning to think through your problems and see what works. Almost every scenario in here is based off real situations Subtlety Heroes have had to deal with. Learn from the experiences, and don’t be afraid of failing. Failure is just learning one way not to succeed.”

                The computer let out a series of beeps, and over on the treadmill Will carefully pulled his head free of the helmet. He looked around at the comparatively dull room, blinking away the bustling casino atop the slowly moving river.

                “Still worried that the AI won’t make it an interesting challenge?” Professor Pendleton asked.

                Will set the helmet down on the railing, pressed his hands to his eyes in attempt to clear out the lingering visions, and let out a long sigh. “I hereby officially withdraw my concerns. And I want to know when Alice will be busy in class, because I’m going to get Deckard no matter how many tries it takes.”